Free To Be Me

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Dr. Paula Bloom has written, “How much time have you spent wondering, or even worrying, what others think of you? What else could you be doing with that mental energy and space? Focusing on your work. Playing with your kids. Cleaning up the spare bedroom. Writing that book you’ve been talking about for years?” I think her questions are brilliant, and definitely something we need to seriously consider (not only for ourselves, but also for our children). Because the truth is, we spend an incredible amount of time and energy worrying about the opinions that others have of us.

President Abraham Lincoln once stated, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Not only is this true of our nation, but also of our own lives as individuals. I remember a time in my ministry when I was so concerned about the kind of pastor I thought other people expected me to be. I had to dress a certain way. I had to wear my hair a certain way (these days it would be nice to have a little hair!). I had to say and do the things a good pastor was supposed to say and do. This mindset towards my life and calling became quite debilitating and truly made me numb. To be honest, it made me bitter and caused me to hate my vocation. Pastoring had become a job, and it was no job I wanted. The truth of the matter, however, was that no one else imposed these unrealistic expectations upon me – I did it to myself! Thank goodness I was able to move from that dark place into the light, and have since become the kind of pastor that only Steven Bell can be. What freedom! What joy! Pastoring is no longer a job for me, but something I wake up each morning excited and privileged to do. But how many of us try to fit into a mold that isn’t suited for us as moms, dads, daughters, sons, wives, husbands, friends, neighbors, workers, church-goers, etc.? I greatly appreciate the words Fracesca Battistelli includes in her song, “Free to Be Me”:

‘Cause I got a couple dents in my Fender

Got a couple rips in my jeans

Try to fit the pieces together

But perfection is my enemy

And on my own, I’m so clumsy

But on Your shoulders I can see

I’m free to be me

We all have a few dents in our fenders and some rips in our jeans, but we are all also unique. Although we must live responsibly, it behooves each of us to be true to our gifts, our callings, our talents, our personalities, and ourselves. We’re all different, and we need each other. That being the case, here are a few thoughts on how to stop worrying so much about what other people think of us:

  • Picture a life without this burden. I think you’ll quickly see that it is a life of freedom.
  • Believe that people are basically good.
  • Believe also that, regardless of what you do or who you are, people will do/think whatever they want to do/think.
  • Your imagination is too precious to waste, so stop creating imagined scenarios in your mind.
  • Come to the understanding that you will never be able to please everyone. Dr. Seuss commented, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
  • Focus on “what is” rather than “what might be.”
  • Keep first things first.
  • Surround yourself with loving people (not just people who will agree with you, but those who will love you whether they agree or disagree with you).
  • Be you. There is only one of you in the entire world!
  • Record your accomplishments.
  • Establish boundaries, and just say “No.”
  • Get grounded (hit the pause button if you need to and clear your mind).
  • Never forget how valuable you are.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the colorless tiger. Once upon a time, there was a colorless tiger – he was completely black and white. His lack of color made him so famous that the world’s greatest painters came to the zoo to try and paint some color on him. But their paint would never stay on the colorless tiger. Then along came a quite eccentric painter. He was an odd fellow who traveled about, happily painting with his brush. To be more accurate – he moved his brush as though he was painting, but he never had any paint on his brush. He didn’t have a canvas or paper either – he simply painted the air! So everyone thought it was quite funny when the eccentric painter said that he would be the one to paint the colorless tiger. When entering the colorless tiger’s cage, the eccentric painter began whispering in the animal’s ear, and moving his dry brush up and down the colorless tiger’s fur. Quite shockingly, and to everyone’s surprise, the colorless tiger’s coat was not colorless anymore – every spot the eccentric painter touched with his dry paint brush became vivid with color. The (seemingly not-so-eccentric anymore) painter continued whispering to the tiger, and painting, until the animal had become a magnificently colorful tiger. Immediately, people began asking the painter about his secret painting technique. He shared with them that his brush could only be used for painting real life, and to do that he needed no paint. And while he painted the tiger, he kept whispering this phrase in the tiger’s ear: “In a few days you will be free again – just wait!” Seeing how sad the tiger had been in his captivity, and how joyful the tiger now seemed at the prospect of freedom, the zoo keepers transported him to the jungle and set him free, where he would never again lose his color. This is a picture of what true freedom does to us. It gives us back our color.

Rosa Parks, also known as “the mother of the freedom movement,” resisted bus segregation. She made a decisive choice to be proud of who God created her to be. She later stated, “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.” So this July, after we’ve popped all our firecrackers, after we’ve eaten enough hotdogs to make Oscar Mayer consider retirement, and after we’ve swam so much our fingers look old and wrinkly; might we be grateful. As a person, I am grateful for men and women like Rosa Parks – people who remind me to be me. As an American, I am grateful for our men and women in uniform who serve at home and abroad for the sake of freedom (those living, and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our liberties). Might we be mindful of Ronald Reagan’s words, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” As a Christian and a pastor, I am grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, and how he reminds us, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The question has been asked, “How come there’re no Knock Knock jokes about America?” The answer is, “Because freedom rings.” I hope your life rings with freedom – not only during the month of July, but that each and every day of your life will be an Independence Day.

Dr. Steven Bell

From the Pit

Years ago a friend asked me to describe my relationship with God and I quickly responded that I felt like I was in a Pit all alone.  God wasn’t there.  Luckily my friend did not run out of the room and down the street screaming.  My friend did not really say much because there was not much to say.  When you are in the Pit, you just want someone to sit beside you and not try to “fix it.”  The Pit feels heavy, lonely and scary.

One gift the Pit offers is time.  Lots of time.  Time to be.  Time to think.  Time to rest.  It also offers space to talk with God.  Jonah offers us an example of praying to God from a Pit…the belly of a whale.  In Jonah’s prayer he says, “I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice.”  Somewhere in the midst of prayer, loneliness and fear something starts to happen.  The Pit begins to offer clarity, purpose and hope.  Jonah was vomited (gross) out of his Pit on to the shore. Clarity, purpose and hope.  Samuel Shoemaker, a great Episcopalian priest, once said, “Prayer may not change things for you, but it for sure changes you for things.”

Someone around you is probably experiencing life in the Pit this week (or month…or year).  It may be someone you live with in your tent or it may be you.  Someone you know is in the Pit.  Here is what you do for the Pit dwellers …. give them space, keep them fed and practice patience.  Sometimes life is just hard and God seems far far away (even though God is right there all the time). When life is hard, we need people around us that will not run out of the room and down the street.  We need friends who will just sit beside us until the experience passes.

When it passes, Pit dwellers become new creations.  Just like butterflies struggle to come out of their cocoons, we struggle to come out of the Pits of life.  The results are well worth the journey.




My new hiking boots are covered with mud.  After the snow fell on our ranch last week, we went to feed the cows.  They were hungry.  While deciding where to drop the round hay bail off the back of the truck, we got stuck.  The snow had begun to melt and the mud was thick.  One grandmother, two daughters and two granddaughters stuck at the ranch.  The cows found us entertaining.  They looked at us between the bites they took of their cubes that we scattered away from the truck so they would not be in the way when we got unstuck.  This moment could have gone from bad to worse or bad to hilarious.  It went from bad to hilarious.  We talked about how much food and water we had on hand.  No water.  One pancake.  HilariIMG_1686ous.


As we lean into a new year, we lean into the unknown.  In 2016, some of us might drive right into the mud this year and get stuck.  We may find ourselves bored with life and relationships.  Or maybe we will rediscover some fun things in life like making mud-pies.  Some of us might be like the cows.  We will watch what is happening around us with one eye, while we have our other eye focused on what really matters, food!  As long as no one bothers us, we won’t bother anyone else.  Or some of us will throw our whole-selves into the work of getting the truck out of the mud.  We will sweat, collect rocks, sticks, and over analyze the situation until we are silly.

No matter what the unknown holds for us this year, it is worth our time to stop and listen for God’s voice this year.  A voice that sometimes wants us to be stuck so we remember who is really in control.  A voice that wants us to focus less on our needs and more on the needs of others.  A voice that reminds us of the sabbath so we can rest from our work at least one day of the week.

After we laughed ourselves silly and took plenty of pictures with our phones, we settled down long enough to think clearly.  We needed help.  We made a phone call and waited.  (We also took more pictures.)  Then one of God’s angels drove down the road and through the gate right to us.  He connected our truck to his truck and pulled us out.  The hay was lowered to the ground and we drove home.  Happy people.  Happy cows.

This year (in our family tents) let’s listen for God’s voice first, a voice that guides us, loves us and saves us.

All these blessings will come upon you and find you if you obey the Lord your God’s voice: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the field.

Deuteronomy 28:2-3

Happy New Year from Happy Tents!

Meredith Bell

Remove the Tire

While in heavy traffic this week, I saw something remarkable.  I was driving behind a truck near a car wreck.  As an eye witness (I was right behind he truck), I watched as the driver of the truck stepped and pulled on a work glove.  He then stepped into the next lane, bent down and picked up a tire sitting all alone in the middle of the lane.  He threw the tire onto the side of the road, got back into his truck and drove away.

The remarkable part of this eye witness report is that the lane, where the tire had been, quickly transformed from a crawl back to normal.  Then my lane did the same thing as the driver of the truck drove away, we all followed him.  Everything was back to normal!  In one simple act and one simple moment, frustration turned to peace. What was stopped, started again.  It just took one person to step out, take care of business and then keep going.

We remove “tires” all the time in this world.  Hearts are restored with stints, toilets are fixed with plungers, and lent is removed from dryers every day.  So why do we let some things stop us from moving forward or slow us down to a crawl?  Why do we let harmful relationships keep us from moving forward?  Why do we let stressful jobs prevent us from living healthy?  Why do we let people define us instead of God?  Why do we live in chaos when we can live in peace?

One reason is because we have been moving around in the chaos caused by the “wreck” so long that we forgot what it feels like to drive the speed limit.  It’s time to remove the “tire” in your life.  That thing that is keeping you from having a full life in Christ (John 10:10).  You can decide if you are going to remove the tire from your lane or if you need help from a fellow driver (call your bravest friend and borrow their courage and faith).  Either way, it’s time to move forward.

28955012_94b21d053c_bHappy Tents is dedicated to helping people imagine more.  Can you imagine what life would be like without that “tire” in your way stopping you from being the person you were created to be? God can.  I’m not suggesting the removal of a “tire” is simple and easy.  My eye witness report comes from Central Expressway in Dallas, Texas!  But if you slow down, turn on your hazards, and put on the right gloves (or the Armor of God), you will experience a successful removal.

And the gift is that life will not only feel normal again…it will feel better than normal.  That is just how God works.

Meredith Bell



The power of pigs.  Last week, I drove from my home straight to my first appointment each day.  This week, I had to leave early from my house so I would have time to stop by the barn, pull on my pig boots and feed the pigs, Pickle and Donut.  Last week, after a long day of working, my husband would come home and relax a little before working some more. This week, he comes home to pick up the pig owner and he takes her to the barn to feed the pigs, Pickle and Donut. These pigs have changed our lives.  Things are different around our tent.  My car already smells different.  Every conversation we seem to have includes information about the pigs, Pickle and Donut.

IMG_0232There is something else the pigs have done.  They have brought smiles to our faces.  The way my mother pulled them out of the delivery crate and put them in their new pen gave me a great big smile.  The 10-year-old pig owner has had a permeant smile on her face all week.  When one pig ate out of the 7-year-old assistant- pig-owner’s hand…there was a big smile looking up.  These pigs have delivered a lot of smiles this week to our family.

One year ago, if you would have asked me if we would be in the pig business, I would have quickly said, “When pigs fly…no way.”  One hour ago my family was feeding our new pigs.  My “no way”, in one year, has turn into an “OK.”  What does all of this mean??

There are pigs in everyone’s future!  There are so many big and small events in our lives that are just waiting to knock on our door and take up residence in our lives.  We just do not know what they are going to be until they arrive.  For us, it is two pigs, Pickle and Donut.  It may be a new job, another child, a fantastic trip, a new pet, a new friend or a new chance.  Or it may be a broken relationship, financial troubles, unexpected news, grief or poor health.  Some things in our future will bring us smiles and some things will bring us tears.

There is a lot that we do not know about our future.  There is one thing that we do know and it will carry us through all the “pigs” that life can bring us.  Jesus walks with us in our dark times as well as in our times of joy.  Because we know Christ, we will have the light of life.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”  John 8:12

This week, make some time to have a date with Jesus.  Grow your relationship, smile and listen.  The same Jesus that you know today is the same Jesus you will need during the days to come.  Your relationship with Jesus is life giving.  Jesus will know exactly how to guide you when your “pigs” show up in your life.

This week, my prayer has been for Jesus to send me people who know more about pigs than the Bell clan.  My prayers are working.  All week, we have met new, wonderful people who have a lot of pig knowledge! I’m thankful!

Meredith Bell

Halloween Worms

Last Halloween, I had the most fun!  Night crawlers (fishing worms) had been living in our refrigerator for a while.  There was not a fishing trip planned for the near future.  When my husband and friends headed out the door to begin the trick-or-treat ritual, he yelled over his shoulder, “Why don’t you give away the worms!”  Then he laughed and walked out.

I was very tired of looking at the worms every morning to get the milk, every time I needed to make a sandwich and every evening when it was time to start dinner.  (I wondered if anyone else had worms in their fridge. Probably not.)  Once he left the house, I thought, “Maybe I should give them away…why not?”

That is when the fun began.  When children came to our door, my friend and me would ask them if they wanted a TRICK-or-treat.  Most of them said a treat, but there were a few curious ones that said a trick.  284902228_adb44d6bf7_bThat is when I handed them a worm with a piece of candy.  A real wiggly worm.  Screams were heard.  Laughter was everywhere.  Some worms were dropped.  Some became new pets.  Some moms came back very upset and gave the worms back.  That made ME laugh.  Up and down the sidewalk, the news spread about the worms.  We became famous.  The best quote was from a 6-year-old boy.  He said, “I heard you are giv’in away worms…there is something WRONG with this house!”  He will probably be a preacher some day.

I have no idea who started the tradition of trick-or-treating on Halloween night.  But it is a great idea.  With all the stuff we have in our homes (that we look at every day) there is probably some stuff we could give away.  Once it is out of the house, we don’t have to worry about it any more.  On Halloween night, as you enjoy giving candy away, think about other things you could give away after Halloween.

Simplicity is a spiritual discipline. The more stuff we have the less we feel we need God.  Possessions, over-loaded schedules, un-reachable expectations and clutter all serve as barriers to the relationship God wants us to have with God and others.  What can you give away this week? What possession or ideas are you holding on to that need to go out the door.  Take a leap of faith and experience something new…freedom from your burdens.

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.” They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.” Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus.  Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you? The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.”  Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way. Mark 10:49-52

And if you want to have some real fun this Halloween, add some worms to you candy give-away.  It will be your best Halloween ever!

Meredith Bell


I live for quotes during my weeks.  Quotes and words cause me to pause…remember…reflect…be inspired.  They take me from where I am to where I probably need to be in a specific moment.  This is why I live for them…they remind me that I am alive.  I am capable.  I am creative.  Quotes give me moments in my day that cause me to collide with beliefs, the world and others.  Some push me closer to where I need to be and some remind me that my voice is important.  Some even change my life.

My all time favorite quote by Carl Sandburg who said, “Time is the most valuable coin in your life.  You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent.  Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.”  I still have the email from the friend who sent it to me in 2010 and this quote serves as my filter when I take a new project.

For me, the little quotes are gifts from God.  God knows me.  God knows you. (Even if we try to pretend God’s too busy to notice us.) And God knows how to get our attention on our busy days and on our days when we are just lazy.  I need God on both days to either slow me down or pull me out of myself and back into the race for the day.  And that is why God created quotes!    God was the first in the communication business way before Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.  God has used bushes, mountains (Moses really had all the fun), prophets,disciples, scribes, friends and more to communicate with us.  God was also the first in the recycling business…God takes us from where we are and turns us into a new creation through God’s love.

This week, I have come across some great quotes and I simply thought I would share.  And I hope you might send some of your great ones back to me.  It is kind of like a recipe exchange.  Who knows…we might even change each others lives.

97238010_e9e0fab87bWe may feel there’s way too much to do, but some of it is not his (God’s) will. The pressure is coming from you, or your employer, or your friends, or your parents, or someone else besides God!   Article by Tim Keller

Thy will be done.  From a friend fighting cancer

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 sent from a friend in the mail.

The whole world was changing and I didn’t know how I fit in.  Cecil Gaines from The Butler


If you feel your life is terrible, just look at your own profile page on Facebook and your life looks great!  from a friend

Who says it has to be itsy bitsy? a talk by Jessica Rey

Sometimes God says yes.  Sometimes God says no.  And sometimes God says not yet.  from a sermon

Enjoy your quote hunt this week!

Meredith Bell

Church Bells

A few weeks ago, Steven and I went hiking.  We hiked through the Hot Springs National Park .  The day of our hike, we woke up at the Spring Street Inn, enjoyed a delicious breakfast (one of those meals you can truly eat ALL of it because you know every calorie would be burned off…joy!), stepped across the street from the B&B, and began our hike. We just walked.

After a steep 2 mile climb at the beginning of our 16 mile hike, I needed to take a break.  I just sat on the ground.  When you are hiking it is amazing what feels good and comfortable…the ground.  (I made a mental note to myself to tell my trainer that we needed to work on conditioning my body to do more than a 30 minute workout.) While we were catching our breath and laughing at what we were doing, we heard a familiar noise…church bells.  They chimed over the town and through the trees with the breeze.  The sound of the bells brought a sense of calmness to us while we rested early in the morning.  It was just a moment that seemed to give purpose and peace to the day. God was with us.

181332664_d72575531c_bHistorically, church bells have been used to gather worshipers together for a church service.  One small village I visited during college in Costa Rica still used their church bells for this purpose.  When the pastor was in town, the bells rang to let the people know to come to the service.  Services were not always on Sundays.  When I was a chaplain in a hospital, bells chimed twice a day through the halls.  Their purpose was to encourage the hospital staff to pause and offer prayer for those in their care.

On our hiking day, the church bells calmed my soul.  They reminded me that I was not alone.  They gave me a chance to give thanks for a day to explore God’s natural sanctuary.  They called me back from my distractions into what is truly important…time with God and my husband.  They reminded me that 3 people were hiking that day even though we could only see each other.

Since then, I still hear the bells.  They are not as loud at home, but they are still there.  When I start my day on the wrong side of the bed, God and I meet again when I think of those bells.  Then my day gets a lot better.

I wonder what you use each day to connect your agenda for the day with God’s presence?  Prayer, service, scripture, a cup of coffee?  What are your church bells?  They can be so subtle and quiet that they are hard to hear when we are busy or in a hurry.  But I guess being busy and in a hurry is not what God wants us to be doing anyways.

When we started hiking again (up another incline…ugh), I was still struck by how the church bells connected to my soul.  I shared it with Steven.  And then I said, “Hey, those church bells…that’s our song! We are the Bells!!”  We are on this journey together.  Glad you are with us too!

Meredith Bell


When the Road Stops

Something Else Starts

What do you do when you are told to stop?  That has been my question since February.  It has been haunting me because I do not have a quick answer or an easy one.  Stopping sounds dreamy until it is real.  Then it is not dreamy anymore.  It is a waste of time…only for slackers…not an option.  (My inner thoughts sound like a normal American…produce, produce, produce.)

My stop sign was put up while I was peacefully sleeping one night or maybe when I was in the Starbucks line ordering my soy chi latte.   Someone dug the hole and planted the post beside the road far enough away that I could not see them doing it.  If I could only find the person(s), I would make them give me names. (Now I am starting to sound like a book I just read…selfish…revenge…anger.)

But I am a person of faith.  In fact, I am a pastor…faith is my business.  Yes…I have been told to stop going down the road I was on.  Yes…I was surprised.  Yes…I have gri3498656843_7b29eb9e55eved.  My other questions have been…Where is God in this?  Who else did God ask to stop in the Bible?

The first person that comes to mind is Martha.  Poor Martha (Poor Meredith??)  She was about so many things.  So much busyness.  So much stress.  So much planning.  For Martha, it was time to stop.  It was time to be humbled.  It was time to be teachable.

As I see my stop sign shining on the horizon, I find myself stepping off the pavement even a little sooner than I have to step off.  I find myself not answering all the questions but simply living with the questions knowing the answers will come on a day I least expect them.  Then I will know but it won’t matter anymore.

Until then I am going to walk off the pavement… on the dirt…on the grass for a while to remember what it feels like to not have a plan or an appointment.  Each day may feel like a gift and that is worth stopping.


Pages: 1 2